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Dispatches From Burnside, Episode Seven: The inhumanity of indifference

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
"If you were to take some of these high and mighty politicians or judges and subject them to the same life situations, they'd make the same choices, or worse." [Photo: Anita via flickr]
"If you were to take some of these high and mighty politicians or judges and subject them to the same life situations, they'd make the same choices, or worse." [Photo: Anita via flickr]

By Phoenix

BURNSIDE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, NOVA SCOTIA -- An inhuman enterprise is seeded by only a few malicious individuals, but requires a vast culture of indifference to grow and thrive. It's not your grandfather who was thrown into the freshly-painted, post-fire, segregation cell. So when he cries out to the guards that he has chronic lung disease and is dying in there, you don't feel that electric twang of distress. Even though the guard ignores him, acting as though he is an irrelevant piece of furniture, you don't become enraged. For the human being can be treated this way in twenty-first century Canada.

After all, he must be here for a reason, right?

Sure, maybe he was only caught drinking again, because one of his elderly friends died and he has no support network to fall back on. The important thing is that you can draw a thin, crisp, line between 'his kind' and 'your kind'. Criminal. Not criminal.

It doesn't matter that there are a different set of rules depending on who you are. Once the courts have you in their grasp, suddenly all kinds of things become criminal acts, things that everyone else engages in daily.

Undertakings and probation orders set a person up for failure by figuring out what he likes to do and making those activities illegal. All those breaches draw a thicker, more permanent, line between you and him. The divide widens, preventing him from ever returning to the 'True North, Strong and Free'.

This judicial hypocrisy keeps the courts in business and enables finger pointing.

“See? We were right!”

It's a self-justifying process. The ideal capitalist enterprise with captive customers. A state-sponsored monopoly. The more a person receives these correctional services, the more they appear to need them.

If you realize the justice system is actually a giant corporation, and case law precedent creates de facto laws, then it becomes obvious that you're looking fascism in the face.

Fascism and war go hand in hand. The war on crime is really a war on humanity. It's hiding in plain sight, obscured by thousands of legal principles nobody understands. Those who do dig deep into law get so lost in all the technicalities and are so isolated from the real effect this all has on people. They don't realize how sad and preventable it is, when someone comes in and out so many times, that they are finally glad to be handed a life sentence, because the path they were on was surely leading to their own death.

Nobody sees the daily atrocities except those that are already labelled 'evil' and have no voice as a result.

A couple days ago, an old man was having severe medical issues on the 'range' while everyone else was locked in. It may have been brought about by the fire in the 'range' next door. This one didn't make the evening news but filled the place with toxic fumes nonetheless.

He literally had to crawl to the intercom to ask for help. But help didn't come.

The inmate in the handicapped cell pressed the only other working intercom and asked for assistance for the ailing senior citizen. He was curtly denied.

The poor guy keeled over on the floor, right in front of the window, where guards casually sat in the control booth.

Inmates who were locked in their cages began kicking their doors as hard as they could. They were desperately trying to draw attention to the urgency of the situation before they had to witness someone dying before their very eyes.

Try to imagine the feelings evoked from watching a helpless old man lying motionless on the floor, while you're trapped behind a three inch metal door.

Finally, the thirty minute round came by. This couldn't be ignored any longer, because they had to step over his body, limp and straggled in front of the doorway. A medic was called and eventually sauntered in as the guards stood gawking overtop of the old guy, laughing and joking amongst themselves.

Just another day on the job for them.

Indifference allows you to forget that these are human beings in here. It's easy, when it's not your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your child, your grandparents. The only true evil is the rigid belief in the great fallacy of good versus evil. Neurobiologically, we're all just a bunch of cognitive neural networks taking in information and manifesting behaviours based on that information.

If you were to take some of these high and mighty politicians or judges and subject them to the same life situations, they'd make the same choices, or worse. Most of the serious offenders are genuinely remorseful of the mistakes they've made and the lives they've affected.

“I think about him a lot. Imagine him walking around today, and what he'd be doing, if I hadn't done what I did,” said one serious offender.

I hear a lot of inmates say that jail preserves you. Considering the stress levels in here, it just goes to show how bad life must be for them on the streets. A lot of these peoples' crimes are far less severe than the stuff that Justin Bieber gets away with. People with money can buy their way out of problems. People without, end up in here. That's the only difference.

I'm only here because I devoted all my resources towards a social improvement project and can't afford constant legal representation. I see the same people come in and out, over the years, acknowledge and understand the cycle that keeps them coming back, but feel powerless to escape the black hole of the system.

I see that the odds are stacked against them. They're institutionalized. They can't survive on the street for long because being in here has deprived them of the basic life skills they need. Some of them got to know me and said: “You're gonna make it.”

It is touching to feel the genuine encouragement to be able to move past all this. It feels like being trapped in a pit with only enough hands to be able to boost one person out. It's nice to know that some people have faith in me. But some days, I'm not so sure of myself.

End dispatch.

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